LGBT rights are such a touchy topic especially in Nigeria. Our country has transformed so dramatically in the last 20 years, as our agitations moved from independence from dictatorial military regimes to the fight to overcome corrupt officials and intense poverty. However, one tool that has remained constant during these vastly different times in Nigerian history has been our devotion to religion. Religion has provided a greater purpose for many Nigerians and has galvanized us to great acts of common good. But as Mary I Bunting Fellow and founder of iOpenEye, Ifeoma Fafunwa, explains, it has also become a tool used to promulgate hatred and bigotry.
Nigeria has the fifth biggest populations of Christians and Muslims in the world, and religious fundamentalism has become a popular strain of religious practice in the country. And of course, religious fundamentalism requires a target to which all the rage it creates can be directed, and in Nigeria, the LGBT community has proven an easy target. This is why in 2014, when President Good luck Jonathan’s re-election bid was compromised, he fast tracked a bill supported many prominent religious leaders that sought to criminalize same sex marriages and gatherings with a prison sentence of 14 and 10 years respectively. The bill was passed into law, and while it gained Jonathan some good will, it didn’t help him win a second term. He has since gone on record internationally condemning the bill.
But therein lies the problem, whatever the original intentions of the bill and the other activities of this nature that have been allowed to happen in Nigeria, the consequences remain the same, Nigerians have chosen to ignore their own failings and have convinced themselves that homosexuality is a foreign scourge that is being forced upon Africa, and that it must be resisted violently. And people are being killed to reinforce this belief.
However, it is not enough that LGBT people are finally speaking out for themselves and demanding equality in society. It has never been. Until the voices of cis men and women are joined with the voices of LGBT persons in the demand for equal rights for all Nigerians, can we expect real change. Ifeoma Fafunwa, founder of iOpenEye is one of such women.
Through iOpenEye, Fafunwa has challenged stereotypes about gender, through her widely beloved play ‘Hear Word’. She is doing it again through her time at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, where she gave a talk called ‘Who Would Choose To Be LGBT and Nigerian’. Fafunwa used the opportunity to debut a short documentary she made about the LGBT experience in Nigeria, a precursor to a film she is already making about homosexuality in Nigeria, and she makes a vital case for sexuality and how a willful ignorance has allowed us overlook the LGBT persons we know all around us in Nigeria and actively seek to oppress and subjugate them to lives that conform to our narrow perspectives about sexuality and gender.
We ask that you watch Fafunwa’s speech, watch it to the very end, and listen for once, to a woman just like you or me, who sees that a person’s humanity holds more value than our prejudices.